Wednesday, July 4, 2012

More Museums--in Philadelphia

Even at the beautiful new building off Ben Franklin Parkway in Center City Philadelphia, a visit to the Barnes collection takes some planning. Eileen and I were in town for a conference of hers on international labor relations so I set up our visit ahead of time; never could it have been arranged upon arrival.

You probably know about the eccentric Dr. Barnes who was in the right place at the right time with the right advice--William Glackens, the American impressionist, purchased some of the best items in the collection. Dr B, of course, had his own ideas about how to hang all the Renoirs, Cezannes, and Matisses on his walls, and said they couldn't be lent or even moved. So finally they were going broke out in his Bala-Cynwd mansion in the Philly suburbs near the Main Line, so they were allowed to build this magnificent set-up and even with his "arrangements" packing paintings on the walls, it's an incredible experience.

Never will you see so much magnificent modern art, plus a few El Grecos and a Durer here and there. But in addition to the masses of Renoirs and Cezannes and Matisses, there are probably 5 or 6 Van Goghs, as many Modiglianis, and some Picassos, Pissaros, Utrillos, Prendergasts, Sisleys, Gauguins, Horace Pippins, and many many more mixed in with American metalwork and Greek sculpture and African masks and sculpture. Yes, it's quite a trip.

Then I picked up where we left off at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco in May at the new National Museum of American Jewish History.  It's a well-conceived museum and today I read why they didn't have the actual original G. Washington letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport out--it can only be shown for three months every year. But there were lots of good items and a wonderful film of comedians and Yiddish theater and even the Hollywood moguls. Those last miserable characters got off lightly in the show, which makes me think their descendants must have ponied up for the production. And another one of contemporary edgy stuff had Mel Brooks's most classic Inquisition number from History of the World--Part One and Gilda Radner as Emily Litella discussing saving Soviet jewelry.

I found time to make it out to the Penn Museum of Archaeology which had a pleasant exhibit on Maya 2012, about their calendar which doesn't really say the world will end late this year. Some of the basic parts of the Penn galleries on human evolution and the Etruscans (not those two together) are absolutely fantastic--it seems that Penn had people out in ancient Assyria and Yucatan digging before anyone else got there and they present the stuff brought back very offhandedly in that classically understated Philly style.

Before we leave I will hit the Art Museum--recall how in Philly, it's the University and the Orchestra and the Art Museum--which has just opened a Cezanne, Gauguin, and Matisse show on Visions of Arcadia. The Times sent a foreign correspondent down last week to point out that there were only a few of the works of those three named leads, but I'm sure it will be worth the non-detour.

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